The Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in southwest Florida was one of the first police departments to use drones. CCSO began their drone program with 5 DJI drones to help in search and rescue missions, situational awareness, and emergency response procedures. In 2017, CCSO was the first law enforcement agency to locally deploy drones in response to a major disaster, Hurricane Irma. Sgt. Jim Baker of CCSO’s Bureau of Technical Services was on hand to deploy the department’s drones in emergency and relief efforts. He explained that the drones proved to be critical tools in expediting survey inspections and getting people to safety.
In the past, police would have to wait on expensive and time consuming helicopters to get aerial footage of what roads were completely impassable and which could be quickly cleared to resume traffic. Drones enabled CCSO to help emergency workers and civilians safely navigate. The drone even helped ease tensions at gas stations. “We showed gas station owners how to move traffic through their stations more efficiently by showing them aerial footage,” Sgt. Baker said. CCSO quickly became a model for how drones can be used by law enforcement agencies positively.
Today CCSO operates 20 drones, and with the passing of new state laws, CCSO Sheriff Kevin Rambosk announced that drones would be used to monitor shopping districts beginning on Black Friday and extending through the holiday shopping season. This past summer, Florida passed a new law that would allow drones to be flown over crowds of 50 or more people and to monitor traffic. “Our goal isn’t just to simply have patrols. That’s not what we’re here for,” said First Sgt. Jim Jones of CCSO’s drone department. “This new legislation was designed for life safety purposes so people don’t get hurt. So people can feel safe when they are shopping in these crowds and in these congested areas during this time of year.”
Across the country, retail theft has increased over the last year. Unfortunately, there is little to nothing that store security can do to curtail shoplifting. During high traffic holiday shopping, tensions along with theft rise. CCSO wants to make sure that citizens feel safe while they head out to the stores, and a bird’s eye view through a drone can easily provide an extra layer of safety. CCSO hopes that the mere presence of the drones and extra officer patrols will be enough to dissuade any would be thieves. For those brazen enough to commit a crime, the drones will help officers coordinate rapidly to address any issues.
Along with the drones and officers patrolling on foot, CCSO will be stationing observation towers in shopping center parking lots and using traffic scanning equipment. Sheriff Rambosk wants people to remember a few basic tips, such as to lock cars and keep valuables out of sight, don’t carry large sums of money, and to keep money in a front pocket rather than a wallet or handbag. “We are doing everything we can to make this holiday shopping season a safe and enjoyable one, Sheriff Rambosk said. “We are also asking everyone to partner with us by doing their part to stay safe. Together we can make this a great and safe holiday season.”